Jun 12, 2013

Shame on Me

So I've been neglecting my duties, it would seem.  It's been almost EIGHT MONTHS since my last post, I've let my website go into ruin (the domain was only valid for a certain time, and I let it expire since I wasn't really using it), and I've gone at least two months without doing any serious writing.  I also haven't done anything serious on twitter in quite some time.

But that's all about to change.

Well, at least one of those things, anyway.

I can't promise I'll be able to blog regularly.  I've never been much of a blogger, and the medium doesn't interest me nearly as much as it does for others.  Twitter is basically the same story.  I probably won't renew the domain because it was a birthday present and I only updated it a handful of times while it was active in the first place (seems a bit of a waste of money if I'm not going to use it, right?).

But I am writing again, which is good news for me!  I'd taken a small break from writing due to...well, mostly stress, but the point is it's all been taken care of and I feel much better.  I've found a really cool spreadsheet to track progress on multiple projects, which is good because I have several ideas I'm bouncing around (including one I'm actually writing about).  I also have a finished outline for one of those stories that I'm really looking forward to getting back to.

I'm hoping to go back to writing a little every day like I was doing before.  It was slow going, but it was working.  It'll be good for me to get back into writing; I always feel better when I write, and I really want to get back to creating.

I'll try to write a blog post here and there, but again, no promises.  I'm really more focused on the writing of novels than what amounts to journal entries and opinion pieces, but I'll do what I can.

Like the picture says: "Change is a process, not an event."

What's your favorite writing medium?  Novels, magazine articles, short stories, poetry?  What makes that your favorite?

Oct 24, 2012

To NaNo or not to NaNo?

Sorry for the lack of updates.  Haven't been thinking much on the blogging side of things in a while.  I'm not giving excuses, though.  I'm here now, and I guess that's what counts.

NaNoWriMo is fast approaching--next Thursday!--but I'm not sure if I'll be joining the crowd this year.

I'll start by saying I love NaNoWriMo.  It's great having a community of like-minded individuals embarking on the same crazy adventure you are.  Even if I don't interact with them, I know the community is there for me.  It's also a good way of keeping me accountable for my writing.  For one month, I have an excuse for being more of a recluse than normal.  Friends and family may not understand it, but they respect its importance to me.

That being said, this is the first year I'm not feeling the giddiness that an impending foray into uncharted literary waters usually brings.  It's not that I don't have an idea.  On the contrary, I two ideas.*  I have an idea that I've been tossing around for years but never really start, and I have a new idea I'm terribly excited about but am afraid might not be ready for a month of literary abandon.

Either way, I feel like I might be sacrificing a good idea to an abyss of crap.  See, most of my projects from NaNo, while they have promise, haven't had enough promise to take them any further than extended writing exercises.  The plot was too thin or the characters weren't engaging, or maybe I just wrote myself into a hole too deep to come up with an ending.  I'd get to my 50,000 words, usually while dragging my rotting corpse of an idea for the last 20K, and stop before it gets any worse.  I did manage to completely end my 2011 NaNo attempt, but not without some serious preaching--which was NOT the direction I'd wanted to take--and a hearty tub of deus ex machina, which insulted me as a writer and a reader.

Every year, though, I've learned something about my writing.  Maybe I learned my dialogue was too stilted, maybe I discovered my pacing was rushed.  Last year I realized most of what I'd written were summaries, not scenes.  I'm getting better with each project.  I'm learning what does and doesn't work for me (planning sucks the life out of my writing, but 'pantsing' results in redundancy and plot canyons), and I'm getting more confident that I don't outright suck at writing.

I know I can finish 50,000 words in a month.  I've already done it three of the five years I've participated in NaNoWriMo.  And I know I probably should take one of the ideas for a test run, because what do I really have to lose?  I'm just having trouble getting myself psyched up to the task this year.  I think I'm too wrapped up in my head to be fair about this.

*both are fantasies, of sorts.

What do you think?  Should I do it this year?  If so, why?  Also, should I use the idea I'm excited about, or an idea that's been simmering for a while yet hasn't been put to paper--or screen, as the case may be?  

Jun 21, 2012

Being a Better Reader, for Writing

I've decided that, in order to be a better writer, I have to be a better reader (reading tens of...tens of articles that said this might have impacted my decision).  So I've been trying to read a variety of books, both for enjoyment and to learn more about writing in general.  This meant I had to venture outside of my comfort zone.

Which meant I had to actually discover what my comfort zone was.

Oddly enough, I realized it was classic literature.  I'm not saying I loved every classic I read (Wuthering Heights, I'm talking to you!), but something about the fact these books have been able to withstand the test of time was appealing to me as a reader.  I wanted to know what made them so good that they were considered greats.

Morozova Tatiana  /  featurepics stock
(according to where I found it on msnbc.msn.com)
But reading what's been great since then won't help me understand what can be great now.  I won't help my writing by reading nothing but stories written by people that died a hundred years before I was born, so I've expanded my horizons--not only reading more contemporary stories, but reading without a genre bias.

So far, I've been pleasantly surprised by trying new things.  If it's in a time period I like, I can really get behind historical fiction (especially if there's a love story involved).  I also like  time-slip plots, like those found in Susanna Kearsley's works and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.  I'm learning to respect a well-paced thriller, but I'm just as capable of enjoying young adult (as long as it isn't the stereotypical angst-filled teen romance).

I've even read a Harlequin romance, something I'd never done before.  It wasn't what I expected, though.  I got through the entire 250-ish pages and only saw three kisses and a rushed sex scene.  Aren't romance novels supposed to be more, well, sexy?  Maybe I'm missing something, but rest assured I'm not giving up on the genre.  Just point me in the direction of something good, but not hardcore like the 50 Shades series because I'm not sure I have the mental wherewithal to handle that just yet.

But I'm not just reading these books in a variety of genres, I'm absorbing them.  While I'm enjoying the stories, I'm also taking mental notes that can help my writing.  I'm learning what I like in stories and what I want from my own writing.  By knowing what draws me in, I can better inform my own stories.  Sure, I'll write what I'd like to read, but now I have a better idea of what I really would like to read.  I wouldn't have known that if I'd stuck to the classics.

Just like someone who always thought they'd be a sports star until they picked up a guitar, you'll never know what really gets your heartbeat going until you try something new, something different.  Change is good, and it makes you better.

Have you experimented with new genres?  If so, have you learned anything from them?  What genres attract you, or do you pay attention to genres at all?  Better yet, any books you think I should add to my 'To Read' list?

Apr 19, 2012

Making Outlines Work for You

I've read many articles about outlines.  There's an outline to cover almost every need: the detail-oriented, the free-spirited, the linear model, the idea style.  Just Google 'novel outlines' if you don't believe me.  With all these types of outlines around, how do you find the one that works best for you?

I'll be frank: I'm fairly new to using outlines.  For years I didn't make them.  Even on most English projects, I didn't make an outline until it was part of the project requirement, and oftentimes I wouldn't do it until after I'd written the paper.  I know, order isn't my specialty.

Now, though, I'm trying something a little different.  As you may have heard, I'm experimenting with planning.  Instead of diving straight into a story, I'm going to try and lay it out beforehand.  Hopefully this will result in stronger characters, less plot holes, and less literary overhaul in the second draft.*

Wrong outline, but still...
The outline style I've decided works best for me is index cards.  I jot down a few things on the card, like a plot point or something I'd like to address in the story, and I'm free to place the cards in a way that seems most logical plot-wise.  It's a flexible method, subject to change, and any adjustments can be made with a shuffle of the cards.  I've never been the 'write everything down' type, so a formal outline is something I'll likely never be able to do to my liking.  The index cards are more informal, which is a lot more my speed.  So far it's working out great.

But will it work for you?

Index cards aren't for everyone.  They can take up a lot of space, and if you have limited counter space that can be a problem.  I bought a little box for them, but some people like to spread them out on cork boards or wherever they can see them best.

And you might like ABC, i. ii. iii. type outlines.  You might like a flirty mix of organized and chaotic, and that's great.  The only way you'll learn which outline style works best for you is to try them.  Try out the snowflake method, use the 8 step way, or try writing things on a few note cards.  The point is to try different things.  You'll never learn what works best for you until you know what doesn't.  All you have to do is find the outline that does.

And then make it work for you.

What kinds of outlining methods do you use?  How long have you been using them?  Is there an outlining type you don't like, and if so, why?  (And don't forget to share if you like this article, subscribe to the blog, and all those lovely things)

*For those of you that were wondering about my NaNo 2011 project...let's just say it's on hold indefinitely.  Without a clear goal to start with, I ended up in a strange mass of words that comes off really preachy, and that's not a good thing.

Apr 12, 2012

Characters are Weird

Today I'd like to talk about characters.  Right now, I'm trying to figure out the characters that need to appear in the new novel I'm working on, so it seemed as good a time as any.  I also wanted to open the floor for any information you might have about writing plans.  Always looking for new ways to do things.

So how about we dive into how I do things now?

What I like to do is figure out a character's personality first, then figure out what physical characteristics a person like that might have.  Maybe he's very reserved.  Would his mouth be in a tight line all the time, or would it be relaxed?  Maybe she's adventurous.  Would her hands be calloused from climbing trees and mountains?  I like to have a mental image of the characters I'm working with, that way they feel more realistic as I'm writing them.  If I don't have a solid idea of my characters, how am I supposed to expect others to get one?

Once I've figured out the personality and the physical traits, the natural progression--for me--is to come up with a name.  This is where I'm hitting a snag, because I don't like naming things, at all. Making a list of names is fun, but I'm having issues narrowing it down to one name.  I've been using this giant book of names, as well as perusing baby naming sites and movie credits, so I've got a lot to work with.  So far, though, I've been lucky.  I've already named most of my characters, even the minor ones, but the one character (more than any other) that's driving me nuts is the main male character (MMC).

 I'm not going to go into personality on him and ask for suitable names (who knows if his personality will stay the same through the story?  I might start writing and realize he's not what I'd planned after all), but I'm just stuck for a name.  To me, though, a name isn't terribly important at this stage.  Granted it feels more personal to be able to point at a character and say, 'Yes, this is Bainbridge and this is who he is,' but I'm not going to postpone my work waiting for a name to appear.  At this point, his physical description card is filled out and the name line is just blank.  It will stay that way until I find a name for him.  If I get to the point where I'm writing the story and still haven't come up with a name, I'll just put MMC (or Bainbridge) in and do a 'Replace All' when he gets a name.

It seems awful simplistic when I line it out, but so far this process seems to be doing well.  It's certainly doing better than the old way, which was diving in with no idea of anything and making things up as I went along.  Apparently I'm not as spontaneous as I like to believe.

Are there any parts of writing (not editing) that you stumble through?  Have you developed a way to cope with those issues (like making a note and moving on)?  Tell me in the comments, because I'd love to hear it!